Religious Life and Ecological Concerns
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
Religious and Consecrated people are a great gift to the Church and the world. Through the practice of evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience they bear witness to living the gospel in an authentic way. They are a shining light in a world that is engrossed in materialism, consumerism and pleasure seeking life all akin to idolatry and atheism. Religious men and women through their life of service dedicate their life to the upliftment of the poor and needy especially in the much needed areas of education, health care and in other socio-economic and justice areas.
In the history of the Church many Religious families sprang up to respond to the needs of the world, society and the Church through their unique charisms—the apostolic response made through God’s call and intervention. For example, St. Benedict revolutionized the monastic and religious life through his Benedictine family, St. Dominic preached to the world through his Order of Preachers, St. Francis taught the Church the value of poverty and simplicity through Franciscan charism, St. Ignatius of Loyola with his Society of Jesus stood strong with the Church during reformation and more recently St. John Bosco who cared for numerous orphans at the peak of industrial revolution in Europe. Let us also not forget the many other missionary societies who evangelized people in challenging places of the world.
Religious and consecrated people are in touch with the people at the grassroots. Often they are the thoughtful opinion leaders in grassroots communities as educators and social workers. They are able to combine their study in philosophy and other secular studies with the Christian thought and spirituality. Not a few had the privilege of studying subjects such as Eco-Philosophy and Eco-Theology and they in their turns are educating the masses in best practices that would preserve nature and protect the earth and our home. This is perhaps the signs of the times. I often used to think that it is high time a Religious Society springs up in the Church with the exclusive charism to protect the environment and care for the earth. It is surely being a prophet in our time.
Having committed their lives through evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience Consecrated men and women have built convictions that are translated into action. Here we expect them to practice in their lives practices that would care for the earth and educate people to care for the earth. Even if necessary they spent their entire life in caring for the God’s own gift of the earth to humanity and if called Religious become martyrs for the cause of the earth and its justice in protecting the earth for future humanity.
St Hildegard of Bingen of 11th century who lived a few decades before St. Francis of Assisi, one of our female Benedictine ancestors, already had a profound sense of being related to the earth. For her the earth was something sacred and precious, to be cherished and protected: our home. She speaks of the ‘greening’ (viriditas) of the universe, brimming with life, vitality and creativity. She awakens the rhythm of the cosmos in us. For Hildegard, God created humankind so that we might ‘cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly’. God made us to bind the wounds of the earth.
St. Francis of Assisi of 12th century considered the fellow creatures—sun and moon as brother and sister. He integrated all the things of the earth part of his prayer and daily life. Pope Francis in his encyclical on environment, Laudato Si, says of St. Francis thus: “Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically… who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” (LS 10)
In our own time, the mystic and social activist Br. Carlo Carretto in his fictionalized biography, I, Francis, has the saint responding: “It is a terrible sin you have committed all around you, and I do not know whether or not you can still be saved. You have violated the forests, defiled the seas, plundered everything like a bunch of bandits. And now that you have destroyed nearly everything, you have appointed me patron saint of ecology. You have to admit, it is a little late ….”
These are only a few examples of Religious men and women calling to protect the earth our common home. They effectively use their consecrated life of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience to inspire the earth and urge us to care for the earth and protect nature.
According to Pope Francis, ‘Religious follows the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way’. Today the prophetic nature of religious consecration also commits us to sharing God’s concern for the whole of the physical world. Prophecy is about telling the present: lamenting environmental destruction and evoking the memory of God’s dream for creation, raising consciousness of the global ecocide that threatens humanity and the entire planet in the here and now.
Today the world is deeply engrossed into the extreme consumerism and materialism that often push people to become greedy and self-centred. This often happens unconsciously and thoughtlessly. Before we become aware of our own greediness we have learnt to self-indulge ourselves into satisfying our appetite for more and more pleasure and accumulation of material things. All this at the expense of destroying nature and every possible natural resources that should also be preserved for many generations to come. Over consumption of material things is depleting the earth’s resources which ought to be preserved for the future generation. Throw away culture is against charity and brotherly love; it is egoistic and conceited and inconsiderate towards the less fortunate and our future generations.
We can make a change through living a frugal and simple life; using things that are locally available, acquiring things that are strictly needed for daily living; becoming aware of our own environment mistakes and ‘sins’ and educating others to care for the earth.